Friday, November 8, 2013

First Stop: Athens, Greece

We flew into Athens at 11:30AM on a bright, warm  day October 17th.  We had started from Albuquerque at 8AM on October 16th, flew to Atlanta, Georgia, and then on to Paris, arriving at dawn. I had awoken on the plane to see the Normandy coast lit up with clusters of lights, the towns radiating out like spider webs twinkling with yellow-orange lights  With only an hour to transfer planes, we had to race through Charles de Gaulle Airport to catch the Air France 5 hour flight to Athens.  My next view was of the Alps, like white meringue below, with knife-blade edges for their ridge lines.  Then we passed over the Adriatic Sea and the Ionian Sea where I could see the Italy boot arch and the turquoise sea around the first Greek islands.  Then we flew over the brown hills of Albania and Greece with their small villages and farm houses.

The landing was smooth and we caught a taxi to our hotel in Athens.  The cost was 45 euro because the airport is a long way from town.  Our friends from Maine took the bus and it was much cheaper, but we had too much luggage to do that. Our long 25 hours of travel was rewarded as we stepped out on our southward-facing  balcony at the St.George Lycabettus Hotel high above the city.

View from our hotel balcony

I had to enjoy a cafe latte on my balcony

Ron soaking in the view

Looking down 7 floors to the street below
We rested until the late afternoon and were rewarded with a beautiful Athenian sunset.

View from our balcony at night

As night fell, we took a cab to Monastiraki Square for kebabs, souvlaki, greek salad and beer at Taverna Thanasis. Delicious!

Dinner at Taverna Thanasis

Delicious Souvlaki Kebobs


I explored the market and shops, picking up a kilo of delicious grapes for 99 cents, a few unripe pears and souvenirs before the stores closed promptly at 9PM. This square is a lively place with it's many open air cafes especially famous for souvlaki, a Metro station and central marketplace.

The next day, we went to the Acropolis  -  the "high city" where early people lived until a temple to the Goddess Athena was built  between 421 and 406 BC.  Thenceforth, numerous temples and altars were built by the Greeks to worship Athena.

The Erechtheion was the first temple built in honor of the goddess Athena

The Parthenon

The Porch of the Caryatids

The Temple of Athena Nike at the Main Entrance
Here is a view of our hotel from the Acropolis.  The building on top of Lycabettus hill is that of the Chapel of St. George, built in the 19th century.

The arrow points to our hotel in this view from the Acropolis.
Pieces of Ionic columns

Here I am at the main entrance.
The entrance was reached by many, many steps which my husband would have found difficult so we took an elevator to the top.

Two elevators allow people with walking difficulties to access the ruins on the Acropolis

After our visit, we rested with ice cream and beverages at the Dionysos Zonar's Restaurant across the street.  Then I walked to the new National Archaeological Museum at the foot of the Acropolis.

As you walk to the entrance of the museum, the floor has numerous "windows" to peer into the
excavation of ancient Greek homes
Along the way I purchased a sepia watercolor from one of the many artists who are painting and selling in this area.  The work was quite good and varied from water color to oil and acrylic and cost only 20 Euro on average.

Musicians of all kinds play for donations.  I dropped more than a few Euros in their hats and instrument cases for their wonderful music. I purchased some gifts of olive oil soap, a Greek coin collection, T-shirts, and a Greek calendar with recipes.

A nice calendar with Greek recipes

Greek coins and olive oil soap
 That evening, Ron and I enjoyed a lovely dining experience at the Le Grand Balcon Restaurant on the top floor of our hotel.

My appetizer was not only delicious, but artistically presented

The views were inspiring

 The next day (October 19), we hired a cab to give us a 2 hour tour of the city and to take us to Piraeus Port to board our ship for a 2 week Mediterranean cruise.  Athens is very crowded with cars and motorcycles with very little parking and narrow streets that become nearly impassable as people illegally park along the roadside.  Because of the layers and layers of settlements in Athens for thousands of years, it is very difficult to dig into the ground for subways and underground parking. Expansion of the Metro is taking years to construct because construction must be stopped while archaeologists excavate the ruins of ancient civilizations.  Also, because of Geek's economic problems and very high unemployment (currently 27.6%), many sections of the city have empty buildings and closed businesses. Graffiti (mostly political) is everywhere. Nearly 60% of Greek's population under 25 is unemployed.  Our driver, Konstantine showed us many sites of Athens of which here are a few pictures:

A view of Athens from the Chapel of St. George Viewpoint
The Changing of the Guard at the Hellenic Parliament Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

Hadrian's Arch

The Temple of the Olympian Zeus

Finally we got to the Port of Piraeus and to our ship, the MS Ryndam. We embarked at 4:30PM on Saturday, October 19th. We met up with our friends, Sharon and Bob, from Maine.  It was the first time we had seen each other in Athens so we swapped travel stories and settled into our staterooms.

Our itinerary (before change).  We did not go to La Goulette, but went to Olbia, Sardinia, Italy instead.
Farewell, Athens.  Next stop: Katakalon, Greece.

Go to my next post for our second port of call, Katakalon, Greece.

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